The rich and fruity Simnel Cake was originally made for Mother’s Day, as a kind of mid-Lent treat, by girls in service who were given the day off to visit their mother. Somewhere along the way it is now more associated with Easter and the end of Lent than Mothering Sunday.
The name is believed to have come from a brother (Simon) and sister (Nell) who wanted to make a cake for their mother but couldn’t quite agree on the best process. After some compromise they made their cake and the Simnel cake was the result.
The cake is traditionally decorated with 11 balls or marzipan to represent the 11 true apostles, but you can have fun with mini eggs, chicks and other Eastery bits and bobs as well if you like.
For the almond paste:
- 250g caster sugar
- 250g ground almonds
- 2 beaten eggs
- 1 tsp almond essence
For the cake:
- 1 lb/ 450g dried mixed fruits (currants, raisins, sultanas, glace cherries)
- 3 oz/80g candied chopped peel
- 8 oz/ 225g all purpose/plain flour
- Pinch salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 175g butter
- 175g fine/caster sugar
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- Milk to mix
- Apricot jam to glaze
- Heat the oven to 325°F/170°C/Gas mark 3
- Line a 7 inch cake tin with greaseproof paper.
To make the almond paste
- Place the sugar and ground almonds in a bowl.
- Mix in enough beaten egg and to make a fairly soft consistency.
- Add the almond essence and knead for one minute until the paste is smooth and pliable.
- Roll out a third of the almond paste to make a circle the size of the cake tin. The rest will be used to decorate.
To make the cake
- In a mixing bowl mix the mixed dried fruits, peel with the flour, salt and spices.
- In another, larger bowl cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the beaten egg to the butter mixture slowly, a little bit at a time, beating well each time so as not to let it curdle. (If it does curdle try mixing in a tablespoon of the flour).
- Once all the egg has been added, carefully fold in the flour and the fruit mix half at a time.
- Put half of the cake mixture into the lined tin, smooth and cover with the round of almond paste. Put the rest of the cake mixture into the tin and smooth the surface with a slight dip in the centre. Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour.
- Lower the heat to 300°F/150°C/Gas 2 and bake for 3 hours until the cake is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
- Roll another third of almond paste into a circle the size of the tin or slightly larger if you want an overlap. Roll the remaining almond paste equally into 11 little balls.
- Once the cake is completely cool, remove from the tin and brush the top with apricot jam. Cover with the circle of almond paste. Place the 11 balls of almond paste evenly around the edge. Brush the top all over with more apricot jam and place under a hot grill until lightly browned.
- The cake can then be further decorated with Eastery treats. Or if you are making it for Mother’s day, decorate with flowers made of icing.